The Consequences of the SPLC’s ‘Hate Group’ Labels Continue to Bear Rotten Fruit
“I’ve seen a lot of things during my time as an elected official in Florida these past three and half years. But what I want to talk about today is one of the most disgusting political stunts I can recall. Gov. [Ron] DeSantis and his education commissioner Manny Diaz teamed up with the Alliance Defending Freedom, a designated hate group, to use low-income children and their lunch money as pawns in a political game. They are using these kids to attack me and try to manufacture yet another fake culture war to divide Floridians.”
These were the words of Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried in reaction to a federal lawsuit Alliance Defending Freedom filed on behalf of their client, Grant Park Christian Academy, who was in danger of losing its USDA funded school lunches for low-income students, because of its biblical worldview on gender and sexuality. This USDA funding, through the National School Lunch Program, is administered in Florida by Fried.
What is the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF)? ADF is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, parental rights, and the sanctity of life.
They also happen to be my former employer. And with all due respect to Ms. Fried, I can say from personal experience her words could not have been further from the truth.
As an ADF media relations specialist who handled press requests, I can attest that these attorneys are some of the most servant-hearted and Christ-honoring folks I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. Furthermore, ADF doesn’t file frivolous lawsuits.
In reaction to Fried’s attacks, Ryan Bangert, ADF’s senior counsel and vice president of Legal Strategy, sent a letter to Fried in which he wrote:
[D]uring your press conference, you called the lawsuit a ‘political stunt.’ An effort to manufacture a ‘fake culture war’ in which ‘low-income children and their lunch money’ were being used as ‘pawns.’ We agree that the children of Grant Park Christian Academy are being victimized by an extreme political agenda. But the ones pushing that agenda are the Biden Administration and your agency. Unfortunately, it took a lawsuit by ADF to stop it, and to ensure that Grant Park Christian Academy can continue to serve its students in a manner consistent with its deeply held religious beliefs.
I also noted that, during your press conference, you referred to ADF as a ‘designated hate group.’ I must assume you were restating the spurious designation conferred by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which enjoys applying that ad hominin label to those who oppose its extreme ideological agenda. For decades, many prominent voices have been warning that SPLC has become ‘more of a partisan progressive hit operation than a civil rights watchdog.’ SPLC’s false claims and gross mischaracterizations have no place in a publication trusted by the public.
Whether Commissioner Fried realized it or not, her August 8 comments (no doubt “informed” by the Southern Poverty Law Center) could not have been made at a more inopportune time.
A week after her smear of ADF, August 15 will mark the 10th anniversary of the shooting at Family Research Council perpetrated by Floyd Lee Corkins. Corkins was convicted under D.C.’s post-9/11 terrorism statute and is now serving out a 25-year prison sentence for his attempted mass shooting. My friend and our unarmed building manager, Leo Johnson, was shot while trying to thwart Corkins’s plan, but thankfully Leo survived and still works here at FRC.
Corkins admitted to FBI investigators that, “It was, uh, Southern Poverty Law, lists, uh-anti-gay groups. I found [FRC] online. I did a little bit of research, went to the website, stuff like that.”
My former colleague Jessica Smith even shared her experience of that fateful day with USA Today. The headline USA Today published for her column was chilling but fitting: “The Southern Poverty Law Center is a hate-based scam that nearly caused me to be murdered.”
As she wisely wrote in her column: “It has always been easier to smear people rather than wrestle with their ideas. It’s a bully who calls names and spreads lies rather than thoroughly reading a brief’s legal arguments or challenging the rationale underlying a policy proposal. The SPLC has chosen to take the easy path — to intimidate and mislead for raw political power and financial benefit.”
It seems even 10 years after August 15, the Southern Poverty Law Center’s dangerous lies about mainstream Christian organizations, like FRC and ADF, still persist.
But she continues: “If the SPLC thought that its hate would intimidate or silence me and my colleagues, they’re sadly mistaken. I’m lucky — blessed, really — that I didn’t take a bullet for my beliefs back in 2012. But the center’s ugly slander and the gunman’s misguided attack have sharpened my resolve and deepened my faith in my Savior, who commands my destiny and shields me from the schemes of man. The same is true for my colleagues.”
I could not have said it better myself.
Alice Chao serves as communications manager at Family Research Council.